The letter from Bulstrode arrives the next day. Fred takes it to Mr. Featherstone, who reads it aloud while making angry comments. When he is done, he asks if Fred expects him to believe something just because Bulstrode wrote an elegantly-worded letter about it. He refuses to confirm what he actually believes, and soon calls for Mary. When she enters he snaps at her; it looks like she has been crying. Featherstone asks if Fred is expecting to inherit some of his fortune, and Fred replies he isn’t.
Before we might feel tempted to sympathize with Featherstone, this passage confirms that he is a truly cruel person. He appears to enjoy toying with Fred’s emotions and is rude and callous to Mary, despite how hard she has been working to take care of him.
Fred is an optimistic person, always confident that everything will ultimately work out. He doesn’t see why his luck would run out now. Featherstone hands Fred five bank notes. Fred thanks him and goes to put them away, but Featherstone tells him to count them first. Fred is disappointed to find that the notes amount to less than he’d hoped, but he nonetheless assures his uncle that he is grateful. Featherstone muses that he is a better uncle than Bulstrode, and Fred asks if he should destroy Bulstrode’s letter. Featherstone tells him to do it.
The greedy attitude of his family members has fostered a sadistic attitude in Featherstone when it comes to money matters. At the same time, Fred’s reaction of disappointment to the £5 he is given suggests that he may deserve to be treated in such a scornful, manipulative way. Although he hides it, Fred is just as greedy as Featherstone suspects.
On his way out, Fred speaks with Mary. She mentions that John Waule was there yesterday, and Fred teases that John is probably in love with her. This upsets Mary, who confesses that it is frustrating to always be addressed in a patronizing way, as if she has no intelligence. Fred says it’s a shame she has to live at Mr. Featherstone’s and be bullied by him, but Mary replies that it’s not so bad. They flirt with one another, but Fred says he thinks it’s impossible for a woman to love someone she’s always known. Mary goes through a list of famous heroines to see if he’s right and finds mixed results.
Despite their differences, Fred and Mary have an easy, open relationship. They evidently feel that they can talk frankly with one another, even when it comes to discussing their own relationship. This is because, unlike couples who only get to know each other over a short period of courtship, they have known each other since childhood. Perhaps this is a better recipe for love than anything else.
They continue flirting, and eventually Fred exclaims hat he will never be “good for anything” unless Mary loves him and marries him when they are ready. Mary warns him against laziness and tells him he should take his exam. Fred begs her for encouragement, but she refuses. She says her father would be horrified by the idea of her leading on a man who was in debt and without a job. As she leaves, she says that Fred has always been good to her. Fred is slightly cheered by this.
Again, Mary is shown to be a principled, mature, and practical person. Unlike Rosamond, who is obsessed with rank, Mary focuses only on what a person can control: hard work and honor.
At home, Fred gives the banknotes from Featherstone to Mrs. Vincy, telling her to keep them safe so he can use them to pay his debt. Mrs. Vincy is happy; she has a special weakness for Fred, her oldest son. Meanwhile, Fred’s resolution to pay his debt may have something to do with the fact that he borrowed the money from Mary’s father, Caleb Garth.
The dramatic twist at the end of this chapter reminds us of the way everyone in Middlemarch is interconnected with one another. This means that it is hard to do anything secret or wrong without it becoming everyone’s business.